Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is the subject of my favorite Christmas carol.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
What poignant harmonies, elegant lyrics, and mysterious, profound, eternal truth!
Known primarily as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem has existed for longer than three thousand years. Although it has only about 25,000 people, it gets over two million visitors per year. I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of Bethlehem because I was raised on Bible stories.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem had no electricity or indoor plumbing, and was overflowing with transients who came to register with the authorities. The people living there in the first century wouldn’t believe how we’ve romanticized their town as quaint, colorful, artistic, and, above all, charming.
The birthplace of Jesus didn’t match his status as promised Messiah and King. He wasn’t born in a palace with attendants and abundance and the finest apparel, and he wasn’t even born in a lodging house. Luke 2 says that when Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay in the crowded town, there was no room in the inn, so they got the stable.
Still sounds cozy to me. I’m picturing a cuddly blanket draped over a thick mound of clean yellow straw, with warmth radiating from a cow chewing its cud and resting in a corner.
Wait a second. Cows and donkeys and sheep and goats bray, step where they want, and do their business wherever they happen to be, smelling up the place. (No wonder ranchers aren’t crazy about having animals in the house.) What was the stable like for Mary and Joseph?
Dr. Trayner Hansen, who teaches English at Seattle Pacific University, writes,
Today we might picture a family sleeping in their car in the alleyway next to the Motel 6 that they can’t afford. The baby is wrapped in an over-sized T-shirt that doubles as a blanket, and he is resting – this newborn – in a shopping basket softened with towels. Who would recognize this as a king? Would you? This is what our King looks like, and this is the example of humility he sets before us.
Why did Jesus choose a humble birthplace?
Perhaps to show us what it meant for him to leave heaven and take up residence on earth, to step down to become a man and dwell among us, to show us what it means to humble ourselves. Would the baby Jesus have gotten so much attention if he’d been born in some closely-guarded and remote inner room of a castle, inaccessible to ordinary men and women, girls and boys?
Thank God that his ways are not our ways. Merry Christmas!
Posted on December 14, 2015